Surprise of the Year: Star Trek
I hardly thought I'd like Star Trek, let alone love it like I do. I figured it'd be a poorly acted enactment of a poorly written Star Trek episode, filled with Trekky appeal. I saw the film a week after it's release, hearing about the critical and public concesus raves about it, although I was still in disbelief. How often were movies based off of tv shows really any good? Sex and the City was so-so, The Simpsons Movie still came off as one long amazing episode, and the X-Files movie was...well I didn't want to believe. I wanted to go home. Star Trek, a long running, nerdcore franchise would surely fall into the same trappings right? My skepticism was soon to be justified I thought.
I thought wrong. You definetly don't have to "live long and prosper" to enjoy this sci-fi super special. It was sleek, stylish, smart and lacking in basically all the nerdy appeal I thought it would be swimming in. Rather than rely heavily on topics and dead ideas from the episodes, it does the smart thing. Takes the general skematics of the franchise and builds the movie from the groundup, becoming a bonafied reboot of a somewhat forgotten franchise.
(Runners Up: After the very mixed reaction at Cannes, the very odd premise-even for the director, the silly looking ad, and the disappointment of his last film, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, was a very welcome surprise. Also Monique's monsterous turn as a monster of a mother in Precious came off as surreal and horribly shocking. It's spit the hot coffee out of your mouth good.)
Definite Breakout Performance of the Year: Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa
In a film that was sold as a Brad Pitt comedic WWII vehicle, Waltz is a definite slap in the face to anyone who wasn't ready for it. He portrays Col. Hans Landa, an Austrian detective for the Nazis whose skill in detecting Jews has lead to the nickname the "Jew Hunter". Obviously a very villainous occupation, but on the flipside, he's a romantic savant and frequent chatterbox. Ample in his mystery, genius in his precision, endless in eccentricity, this multilingual role is definetly worthy of all the raves. Being a Tarantino film, it features a slew of odd and interesting characters, but Waltz runs away with the brilliant movie. And are we mad at our evil little scene stealer? No, the exact opposite.
That's a bingo.
(Runners Up: Once again, Monique's equally evil mom in Precious completely owns hescenes, however she's not in the film enough for me to say she completely devours the movie as Waltz has done here. Jeffrey Dean Morgan interpatation of the Comedian in the superzero movie Watchmen gleefully distorts whatever scene he walks into. South African newcomer, Sharlto Copley anchors District 9 with muscle to spare.)
LMFAO!!: The Hangover
Could there really be any other that made it here? The R Rated comedy has been rising in popularity in recent years, normally featuring a combination of sweetness, raunch, and a general realization that a comedy film is still a film and not just binded to the genre. Finally, The Hangover is released, a movie that entirely understands itself as an R Rated comedy. Lovable, but not deliberately funny characters are a must, a fantastical yet somehow realistic series of events, and it of course, has to be hilarious. And the Hangover is, hilarious. Almost every scene, every line, every piece of imagery. Any flaw that you could find can be forgiven in lou of the movie's potency in laughter making.
What's the hidden ingredient I wonder. Is it how well it connects with audiences? I know people who have many stories about Las Vegas, some are probably crazier than the movie itself. Is it the easiness of the film itself? It doesn't demand to be laughed at at all. It feels like a casual recounting of a very crazy story. Or is it just what it is. A genuinely hilarious movie that is universally funny in some way? I don't know. That's the magic of laughter. Sometimes, you just don't know.
(Runners Up: Up is arguably the funniest Pixar film since Toy Story 2, the buddy comedy mix of wit and slapstick will leave many eyes wet with tears of laughter. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince comes off as a poignant horny teen comedy among other things.)
The Biggest Disappointment (aka the Epic Failure): Jennifer's Body
Hipster movies are becoming a larger part of cinema by the year, ranging from teen comedies to indie films with charm. Jennifer's Body stars iconic actresses (for teens) Her Lady Hotness; Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Mamma Mia!) and is screenwritten by Oscar winner Diablo Cody who recently won for penning one of the most famous hipster indie movies of all time, Juno. So you'd think this movie has oodles of potential eh? Maybe enough potential to potentially be the potential hipster movie of the year? Potential!?
But as it came to pass, Jennifer's Body made very few ripples with hipsters, critics or at the box office. The horror comedy about an uber hot vampire chick eating local teenage boys featured a few snarky laughs, good turns from its actors and some poignant observations. However, while there are some positive aspects, the negatives are quite heavy and outweigh the appeal of the film. Indecisive narrating, often awkward screenplay and uneven plot elements. Although the movie is somewhat enjoyable it left me saying: what was the whole point?
So to round off, Jen's Body wasn't really a bad movie. That's not why it fails. Just disappointing in that it offered quite a bit of that "p"ord used frequently above, and capitilized on almost none of it. And that my friends, is a fail. An epic fail.
(Other Epic Fails: Public Enemies suffers asimilar problem, although the magnitude of its failure is somewhat less prevalent in a weird way. Transformers Two instead of continuing with the strange amount of humanity found in the first installment, the sequel merely capitalizes on big box office, summer smash cliches...also fuck Michael Bay.)
Most Undervalued Performance: (tie)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian and Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre
The reasoning for these two distinctions are polar opposite.
In Morgan's case, his hauntingly dead-on portrayal of the heavily nihilistic Comedian in the film adaptation of Watchmen goes virtually unnoticed. He only appears in flashbacks, but when he does, he rocks the very ground that he walks on, unearthing the ideals of the other characters with a mischievous, almost demonic nonchalantness. The character could have very easily been given a chariecturistic tough guy approach. Not so with Mr. Morgan.
o the other side of the spectrum Matt Damon hasn't gotten nearly enough. A few critic circle noms, a throwaway Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy, so what? The performance deserves much more than that, it's arguably career topping stuff. He really has created a subtle, neurotic character arc, spiked with awkward, hokey humour and buffoonery. Plus, he got fat for the role! Then he had to take it all off again for Invictus! Damon is a talented devoted, A-List actor who deserves way more attention then he gets. His Oscar nom for Invictus (which I'm fairly certain he'll obtain) will be deserved, not on the merits of his performance in the film, but on the merits of his frequently ignored skill as an actor.
(Other ignored top players: Marion Cotillard plays just right as Dillinger's girlfriend in Public Enemies, Sam Rockwell is genius in Moon, critics raved for him, but the film was too small to get any real attention which isn't fair at all, Jim Broadbent does it again in Harry Potter 6)
Most Overrated: The Hurt Locker
Now, don't get me wrong. I loved the Hurt Locker. However, why it's getting all this acclaim and all these allocades it's receiving seem unecessary. I thought it was very good. Not great. I felt that the ending was over long, and that for every scene with incredible intensity there were boring scenes as well. Too me it didnt quite equal the sum of all its parts: an effortlessly cohesive ensemble cast, Jeremy Renner, Kathryn Bigelow's powerhouse, high precision and intensity directing as hot as the desert the film takes place in, etc. All things considred it came up short for me and I don't at all understand what it is about the film that everyone seems to love to that extent.
Am I unhappy about all this? Of course not! I still liked the movie a whole lot, however I am merely perturbed as to what appeals to all of these other people (Critics, audiences etc). Oh well, to each their own.
(Runners Up: Uhh...well New Moon while kinda decent, was nowhere near as good as the money it made, or as hyper fan girls say it is.)
And there you have it, a taste of my thoughts on this year in cinema. Please don't hate me for the whole Hurt Locker thing. My top ten list and various other distinctions should be posted next month, or if I really hustle, the end of December.